If you’re expecting a baby, you might already be clued in to the huge importance of daily read-aloud starting right from birth, and all the developmental, social, and family-bonding benefits it brings.
Well, there is a growing body of research (just check out the links in our sidebar!) showing that all these benefits can be enhanced if daily read-aloud starts even before birth.
Yes, your baby’s ears are already developed enough by the third trimester for her to hear and recognize your voice and even to start picking up on the rhythyms and melodies of your speech. This fosters not only her brain development but the bond you share, because by reading aloud you’ll naturally be communicating your love for her. You’ll also be showing her the joy and magic of language, and she’ll be fascinated and calmed by poems and stories when she hears them as a newborn.
What if storytime does turn out to be your new family’s favorite daily routine? And baby does turn out to be especially curious and connected, a lover of books and learning in general? You’ll be so glad you gave prenatal storytime a try!
Dad-to-be, do you know how important you are to your expected baby? Even before he’s born, you’re already playing a big role in his life just by loving him and making that felt through all the ways you care for his mother. Then there’s the touch of your warm hands on her belly; yes, he’s aware of that, too, as the June 2015 study “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch” found. “Stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus,” the researchers wrote, was found to be “a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” It’s a real interaction: he moves, you touch, he moves some more!
And then there’s your voice. Talking, laughing, singing, reading…he can hear you (in the third trimester or even earlier), and he’ll show you he recognizes your voice when he’s born. Please go back and read a couple of compelling anecdotes about this in our June 2015 post. We also mention the wonderful book Keys to Becoming a Father by Dr. William Sears, who discusses the ways a man can start forming a real and active bond with the baby before he’s born, including talking and reading to him.
He reports that some research shows that the fetus might even hear the deep male voice more clearly through the amniotic fluid than the mother’s voice. Working on that assumption, know that much of the research listed in our sidebar about the effects of the mother’s voice on her baby in the womb will also apply to the father’s voice. So talk, sing, read!
But wait—for a glimpse of the powerful influence a father can have on his baby, let’s jump ahead to after he’s born. An April 2017 study, “Father–Child Interactions at Three Months and 24 Months: Contributions to Children’s Cognitive Development at 24 Months,” has found that when fathers play an active role in babies’ early development (by playing and reading together), children perform better in cognitive tests at age two. “Even as early as three months,” a study author writes, “these father–child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”
How do fathers contribute differently to their children’s learning than mothers? The study said that previous “observational studies have suggested that even though parents display similarities in their interaction styles, father–child interactions have a distinct quality: more stimulating, vigorous, and arousing in comparison to mother–child interactions. Their interactive episodes promote their child’s risk-taking and exploration tendencies, which in turn may facilitate the development of children’s cognitive skills.”
A segment of the study’s observation of father–child interaction concentrated on reading, which especially interested us, and the authors report: “Our findings from the book session link to evidence which suggests that the provision of rich language experiences and educational references support cognitive and learning skills.” In other words, reading aloud to the youngest babies is very good for their development—in so many ways, as we’re learning from so many early-literacy sources—and it has a special flavor when it’s done by Dad!
So, if a father can provide “rich language experiences,” in his own, particularly “stimulating, vigorous” way, through reading to his baby right from the beginning, and if your baby is already hearing your distinctly fatherly voice from inside the womb, it’s safe to assume that you, Dad-to-be, are already playing that essential role in his development.
That takes care of the sciencey side of things. But the magic of bonding with the baby in the womb goes deeper than that. If you adopt a nightly story time during pregnancy, your voice, like his mother’s, will become familiar to the growing baby, and after he’s born, studies show that he’ll recognize and be comforted when he hears you “in person.”
He’ll also recognize the familiar patterns and rhyming vowels of stories he’s heard repeatedly from the womb, and you’ll be helping him develop early language, cognitive, and social skills. As a brand-new, maybe slightly stunned father, you’ll be able to experience this amazing connection right away, and at the same time watch its soothing effect on your newborn.
Reading to an unseen listener might feel funny at first, but you’ll find that sharing this special reading time with your partner and expected child will become a loving family routine, the cornerstone of family bonding for many years to come. And you won’t be alone: many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. What better way to start finding and flexing your unique, irreplaceable fathering muscles?
Not just for mothers-to-be! Make Can’t Wait to Show You your own, for 25 percent off on Amazon with promo code DadsRead, now through June 30. Happy Father’s Day!
We couldn’t be more proud and pleased to announce that Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, the first board book specially written and shaped for expectant parents to read to their baby in utero, has been distinguished by the Mom’s Choice Awards with a gold medal!
The Reading Womb and Belly Books wholeheartedly share Mom’s Choice’s mission of “helping families grow emotionally, spiritually and physically.” We’re proud to show off its seal of approval, which reflects “the best in family-friendly media, products and services.”
You’ve probably come across Mom’s Choice seals on your favorite kids’ books for years. In their words, “Products and services bearing the company’s mother-and-child Honoring Excellence Seal of Approval have earned the MCA distinction for helping families grow emotionally, physically and spiritually; being morally sound and promoting good will; and inspirational and uplifting.”
Here’s how the organization describes this prestigious award:
It’s our joy to acknowledge those who are fueled only by their passion to make a better world as they write an inspiring book or design a helpful product. Around the world, parents, educators, retailers and the media trust us for our product reviews and evaluations.
It truly is our passion to make a better world by helping parents understand the enormous benefits — and the intrinsic rewards — of establishing a regular family reading time even before baby is born. Reading enhances not only brain and cognitive development but the parent-child bond. Reading brings with it not only worlds of adventure and learning, but vast possibilities of connection between human beings. And the amazing fact is that the baby in the third trimester of pregnancy is already able to join in this miraculous process.
Please stop by the Mom’s Choice Winners Shop and browse their extensive catalogue, and then have a look at their Mom’s Choice Matters blog. Of course, if you haven’t already gotten your copy of Can’t Wait to Show You, you can order it here!
During your last trimester, it really does become obvious that your bump is not just a bump, that your little son or daughter is in there, ready to be born and meet you. You have felt him twist and poke you from inside and watched your belly roll and wave. You’ve seen his little nose and toes on the ultrasound — he’s already a perfect little person, cozy in his warm, safe space. Yes, you are a mother, and you have lots to celebrate on this holiday dedicated to you.
You’re so eager to meet this little one who has been close to you for months! What will it be like to hold him and see his face for the very first time? The last months of pregnancy are exciting, and as your belly grows larger, so does your love for your baby, who will be arriving very soon. It’s so hard to wait, isn’t it?
But here’s the incredible news. You may not yet know your baby, but your baby definitely knows you! He knows the rhythms of your body, your waking and sleeping cycles, when and what you eat, when you’re active or still, and most importantly, he knows your voice . . . intimately.
Compelling new research shows that your voice plays as crucial a role in your baby’s growth and development as the healthy foods you’ve been eating all these past months. So although you have to wait a bit to hold your baby in your arms, you can begin nurturing him immediately, through the magical power of your unique voice.
Special Mother’s Day Gift! You or your expectant loved one can try reading in utero with our beautiful board book created specially for the purpose. Click here and enter promo code W49ZZ9DQ to get Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be for $3 off until May 31, 2015.
Researchers at Harvard University Medical School recently reported their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finding that an expectant mother’s voice plays a vital role in the development of the language centers in a baby’s brain. According to the study, a mother’s voice provides “the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.”
If you’ve been following the Reading Womb blog, then you’re familiar with all the previous studies that show the importance of a mother’s voice on the developing child in utero. Here’s a quick summary of a few of them:
- Babies in utero can recognize, and show a strong preference for, their mother’s voice over the voice of a stranger. See this study.
- Newborn babies remember and show attentiveness to nursery rhymes that were read to them by their mother during the last trimester of pregnancy. Check it out here.
- Babies in utero can distinguish between words spoken in their mother’s language and in other languages. Read this article.
These and many related discoveries assure us that a baby in the last trimester is hearing, responding to, and remembering what he’s exposed to from inside the womb. Your baby is already familiar with the melody and cadence of your voice, and this interaction is stimulating the auditory cortex, which plays a large role in developing his brain.
But wait — there’s more! Research and lots of anecdotal evidence — including from our readers — strongly suggest that newborn babies are soothed and calmed by a rhythmic and repetitive story (or song) they heard regularly during the last trimester.
When your baby is born he leaves the soothing environment of the womb, with its predictable, rhythmic sounds. But if you hold him close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced with repeatedly, he will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and by the beauty of your unique voice, the voice he has known and loved for months. Wouldn’t it give you a little extra confidence to have one more way of comforting your new baby?
So celebrate Mother’s Day by talking, singing, and reading to your baby even before birth. Soon enough, you will see your little one’s face light up when he hears you in person! Until then, you can know that he already knows and responds to the sweet sound of his Mummy’s voice.
As an added bonus, you can be sure that by talking to your baby now, you are laying the foundation for future language and literacy skills, cognitive development and, best of all, a sweet, strong mother-and-child bond.
Not only is March National Reading Month, but March 2nd is Read Across America Day, and March 4th is World Read Aloud Day! If you are an expectant parent feeling intrigued by the idea of reading to your baby in the womb, we say: Give it a try on Wednesday, March 4! If you carry on through the rest of the month, we think you’ll be hooked. And this is one of the best things you can do for your baby, right up there with prenatal nutrition and healthcare.
World Read Aloud Day, celebrated annually on the first Wednesday in March, was initiated by LitWorld, an international literacy advocacy organization. According to LitWorld, this day “motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another.” We heartily approve of LitWorld’s mission (the emphasis is ours):
We cultivate a love of reading and writing because having the chance to experience that love is how literacy grows best and strongest. Literacy for LitWorld is not just about learning the alphabet or phonemic practice; it is also about cultivating creative expression, about the power of the read-aloud to immerse children in the power of language, and about putting young people’s stories out into the world, dignifying their experience and giving them a voice in the world.
Yes! And that powerful read-aloud time with your child can begin even before birth. In the last three months of pregnancy, when the baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for him to hear and recognize sounds, you can start practicing this important reading routine and enjoying the feeling of sharing the love of language with your child. The benefits of in utero reading to babies’ cognitive development and language skills have been well documented over the last several years (just check out the Research section in the sidebar).
So we’re really excited to tell you about the latest contribution to this body of work, just reported on February 24. This study, led by the Harvard Medical School, showed that a baby’s brain development is enhanced by hearing its mother’s voice and heartbeat before full gestation. “We theorize,” say the researchers, “that exposure to maternal sounds may provide newborns with the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” We’re right there with you!
All the benefits of reading aloud to children that LitWorld so passionately advocates, combined with the wealth of scientific support for reading to babies in the womb, make it abundantly clear that It’s Never Too Early to Read to Your Baby!
Start this joyful and valuable storytime routine right now, during National Reading Month! Book lovers everywhere are commemorating this special month with activities to spread the love of reading, and the National Education Association celebrates Read Across America on March 2 with fun events in schools, libraries, and community centers around the U.S.
Do you need some tips to get started? Please see this post for a fuller exploration of Jim Trelease’s read-aloud insights, but here are a few for now:
- Use plenty of expression when reading: You can use your voice to reflect the meaning of the text. Use a soft voice for gentle characters and moving moments. Use a loud voice to show strong emotion or to emphasize adventure or excitement.
- Adjust your pace to fit the story: Read slowly to bring attention to beautiful language and imagery. Read more quickly to show movement and action.
- Preview the book by reading it to yourself ahead of time: This way, you’ll be more comfortable when you start to read it aloud. Reading it to yourself a few times will help you plan how the story might sound when it is spoken.
Little ones look forward to this special time each night; it’s a sacred routine that makes them feel safe and loved, and the benefits of storytime for the child and the family as a whole are immeasurable. But is this idyllic scene becoming a thing of the past?
Recent research in both the United States and the UK shows that bedtime stories are on the endangered list. The Guardian reports that in “a poll of 2,000 mothers with children aged 0 to 7 years, only 64% of respondents said they read their children bedtime stories, even though 91% were themselves read bedtime stories when young. Only 13% of parents read to their children every night.”
The reasons cited included “being too stressed out” and “not enough time,” but the most dismaying was that children had trouble staying engaged with books when so many other options were available to them. Now, the chances are pretty good that if you are a follower of a blog called The Reading Womb, you are as unsettled by this information as we are.
As a reader, you probably intuitively knew that there are benefits to reading to children regularly, and we can support your hunches with a few hard facts:
· Children who are read to regularly and exposed to many words from an early age perform better in school and are all around better adjusted emotionally and socially than children who were not read to. Drs. Hart and Risley’s study about this has gotten a lot of fresh attention lately, inspiring initiatives all over the country to increase the number of words babies and children hear. Please see our January 2014 post all about it.
· Hearing stories from the very beginning creates a multitude of neural pathways in the brain. Says Dr. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., chief of the child development and behavior branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, MD.: “There’s a clear indication of a neurological difference between kids who have been regularly read to and kids who have not.”
· Snuggling up with Mom or Dad increases levels of cortisol, the anti-stress hormone, and oxytocin, “the bonding hormone,” in children. Not to mention the benefits for Mom and Dad—research shows that snuggling also reduces blood pressure and heart rate!
So, in short, family storytime makes kids socially comfortable, smart and healthy. All parents want what’s best for their children, don’t they? So what’s going on here?
We’re thinking this could have something to do with it!
In that same survey we mentioned earlier, “Nearly half of the parents surveyed said their children found television, computer games and other toys more diverting, while 4% said their children do not own any books at all.” Oh, dear.
Fisher Price recently introduced a baby-product line called Apptivity Entertainers, or Apptivity Play and Learn, which they describe as “a grow-with-me seat for baby that’s soothing, entertaining, and has a touch of technology, too.” We say it’s a screen dressed up like a baby toy, but either way, there’s a really good chance that this baby is not going to be begging Mommy and Daddy to read another story when an iPad, iPod, or other electronic device is available. Look how this baby is more interested in the small screen than his own Mommy’s beautiful face!
We know technology is here to stay—and it’s an amazing and helpful phenomenon in most cases, in its proper time and place. Most children are going to engage in some kind of screen time, and much of it is good, but it’s our job as the grownups to ensure that there’s a balance between the zesty stimulation of electronic bells and whistles . . . and the rich, organic simplicity of illustrated paper pages being turned slowly by soft human hands and narrated by a loving human voice.